Cameron bus brakes fail on trip
Twenty-one Cameron University students and faculty members recently experienced the ride of their lives.
On March 7, students and faculty were stranded after a Cameron bus lost its brakes on their return trip from Oklahoma Research Day. The driver swerved the bus over a median and onto the side of a road to keep everyone from getting harmed.
Rhiannon Poolaw, a CU student who participated in Oklahoma Research Day, said she thought something was wrong with the vehicle before the group made it out of town.
“I remember that on our way going to UCO there was a buzzer that kept sounding,” Poolaw said. “Dr. [Yingqin] Liu and some of the other students asked the bus driver about it, but he said it was nothing to worry about, so I didn’t. This happened two or three times on the way there, the first being before we were off Gore Blvd. The driver had to cut the ignition off and restart the bus. I didn’t know if the bus was stalling or what was going on.”
According to Transportation Foreman Roger Long, this buzzer was caused by an issue involving the bus’s brake light switch.
“The buzzer is a warning signal to let the driver know his brake lights were not working,” he said. “He has to turn off the bus and restart. We have since replaced the switch.”
After attending the event and banquet for five hours at UCO, students and faculty prepared to head to Lawton. While the majority of the trip went as planned, the buzzer came on again when the bus was fifteen minutes away from campus. Professor Dr. Abbas Johari sat at the front of the vehicle and realized something was wrong.
“Somewhere before getting onto the street that leads to Medicine Park, we heard the buzzer go off again,” Johari said. “There was no time to ask to pull over. [The driver] took the exit, but there were four cars stopped at a stop sign. He made a quick decision. Instead of jamming and running into the cars, he decided to go over the median. The bus started jolting.”
After waking up, Poolaw said she slowly came to the realization what was happening around her.
“I watched out of my window as we missed cars and a public school bus that were stopped at a stop sign by mere inches,” she said. “We sped past the stop sign without slowing, so I knew the brakes were gone. Luckily, as we drifted across two lanes of westbound traffic and onto the median, the car in movement nearest to the CU bus was 30 feet away. We ran off of the road and onto the shoulder.”
Long said the incident was a result of a problem with the air conditioning compressor.
“The supplemental rear air conditioning compressor went out and blocked up,” Long said. “It is driven by a serpentine rubber belt from the engine. That belt also runs the power assisted to the braking and steering system. The back-up auxiliary electrical system kicked in and enabled the driver to slow the vehicle sufficiently down and remain in control.”
After walking to a nearby gas station, the group waited for Cameron to send help. Poolaw said a CU engineer arrived and helped fix the bus in around 30 minutes. Long said his shop has at least one of every part he may need for the bus and his men are trained and prepared for such incidents.
“When the driver called me, I knew what part I needed,” Long said. “I did not know it was the AC compressor though because that was so outside of the box. We normally don’t have trouble with that system. We knew what tools and parts we needed.”
During the wait, Poolaw said her professors took care of her.
“Liu and Johari made sure to ask every student if they were okay,” she said. “They attempted to explain to us what had happened and what was going on. They really tried to calm us as best they could even though it was obvious that they were just as frightened and surprised of the incidence was we were.”
As soon as the students and professors returned safely to campus, Long and his team began working on the bus. As the bus had recently gone through maintenance, Long said it was an unexpected turn of events.
“After we fixed the AC and the belt, we brought it back to the campus and fixed it up. I got into the bus and practiced driving it,” Long said. “We are not sure why the air conditioner went out like it did, but it was totally unforeseen. It did not give us any indication that it was fixing to go out.
“We take it very, very seriously. We check everything out and make sure it is safe and efficient. We check every vehicle on every trip. If it goes to Duncan and back, someone puts his or her hands on it. Mileage is recorded. Tires are checked. All the basics, the fluids and more get checked. We have people that come in late nights or early mornings to check every vehicle. We try to catch every parameter and thing that we can think of.”
At end of the day, Poolaw, Johari and Long said they were glad everything turned out fine and were happy all the students and professors left the incident harm free.
“I don’t blame the gentleman that was driving,” Poolaw said. “Thanks to his quick thinking and maneuvering, I got to go home to my family that day. It all happened so quickly that it wasn’t until after it was all over that I realized what had happened and how lucky we all were to be alive. I remember a lot of smiles. We were all just happy to be okay.”
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